One of my teammates, Donnie Dee, asked me the following question, “How did you go from losing at every tournament as a white belt to winning almost every tournament as a purple belt?” This really got me thinking and so I am going to share with you what I came up with and what I think are the key factors that made the difference.
I decided to do my first competition after about 6 months of training. I did 2 tournaments, (both were GB Compnet) , as a white belt and 3 tournaments, (GB Compnet, American Nationals and Grapple X) , as a blue belt before I even won my first match. As a white belt I was 0-2, as a blue belt I was 2-5 and as a purple belt my competition record is 11-3.
I have listed the key factors below in no particular order.
1. I began teaching in the children’s classes
I volunteered to be a teacher in the kids class the same week I got my purple belt. It has helped my BJJ tremendously. How, you ask?
- First of all, you get to see Jiu Jitsu from a completely different angle.
- Second, you have to know the technique before you can explain it to a child.
- Third, you begin to really understand the value of listening to your coach.
- Fourth, more overall time on the mat equates to better Jiu Jitsu.
This actually should be a blog post of its own so I won’t go into any more detail here.
2. Frequency of training
When I started training the poster on the wall said that the minimum requirement was two days a week. This was at Gracie Barra Temecula. When I started training three times a week I was really proud of myself. The reality is that if you want to compete and do well you are going to have to step up the frequency of training. Getting better at Jiu Jitsu equates to time invested. My pre-competition schedule is 7x per week with two full days of rest. (M 1x, T 2x, W 1x, Th 2x, Fr 1x)
3. Different training environment
When I started training Jiu Jitsu I started at Gracie Barra. It was a brand new school and I was the very first student to sign up. Unfortunately after about 2 1/2 years the school closed down due to financial reasons. During that period of my Jiu Jitsu journey I had a limited amount of training partners and the majority of training partners that I did have were either the same rank or lower. I was basically rolling with the same handful of guys week after week.
When it came time to find a new school I found myself choosing Carlson Gracie Temecula. We currently have 5 black belts that are all legit bad asses. (Tom Cronin, Tino Martinez, Sean Ruiz, Jeffrey Gallegos and Andre Huebes) All of them teach with Tom being the head instructor/owner. In addition, we have 35-50 students on the mat for the evening classes. We have all belt colors and skill levels and we roll a lot. Usually 4-5 6 minute rounds each class.
Make no mistake, I had great teaching at Gracie Barra under black belts Pedro Rodriguez and Carlos Dubon but you imagine the difference between a school that is struggling to stay a float versus a school that is thriving. This dynamic alone had a huge impact on my progress.
4. Frequency of Competition
For me competition helps my progress because I train for competitions as short term goals. They are like milestones for me. They keep me focused and on track. In 2015 I will do 8 tournaments if I am healthy and able. I used to get a shot of adrenaline just going through the online registration. I knew that the only way that I would get comfortable with competition was to compete often. I realized, after the fact, that I registered for the 2015 Master’s Worlds without any anxiety whatsoever. Kind of funny how that works.
5. I started choosing my technique training partners differently
When it came time during the class to drill new techniques I used to partner up with my buddies. This was actually hurting me more than helping me. Usually my “buddies” were also the same rank as me. I would’t recommend this for two reasons. First, you are going to be too comfortable and will be tempted to just go through the motions. Second, if you are the same rank you are going to be close in skill level. In other words, your ability to help each other is going to be limited.
Now I look for one of two types of training partners. Someone who is much better than I am or someone who knows very little. Partnering up with a brown or black belt to practice techniques has helped me in a big way. They force you to do it right and help you with any details that are off. On the flip side if I choose a brand new student I am forced to mentally and verbally know the details. It becomes a win-win.
6. I started using a game plan
Should you have a game plan or not? For me the answer is YES! Being first to act requires your opponent to respond defensively rather than putting you on the defense. I hear guys say “I don’t have a game plan I am just going to adapt.” To that I say have a game plan and if you can’t execute your game plan THEN adapt! I have a direct course of action planned every time I step on the mat to compete.
7. Confidence level
Since I had started out with a serious losing streak my confidence level was at an all time low. I sincerely believe that the mental aspect of Jiu Jitsu comprises 90% of what makes for a good practitioner. Part of the mental component is confidence. What do you think you are capable of? When the ref yells “Combatch!” are you hoping to survive the match or submit your opponent? I believe that confidence comes to an athlete through the people around him. For me it came in two ways. One, it came by my instructors encouraging me and telling me that they thought I was going to win my tournament. Two, it came through experience on the mat. I started tapping out guys that I didn’t think I would ever tap out. I stopped viewing the guy across from me as unbeatable regardless of their belt color.
8. Started coaching at tournaments for kids and lower belt teammates
This one corresponds to “teaching kid’s classes”. Seeing the match from the coach’s perspective changes things also. For me, it especially helped me to listen to my coach’s instructions during the match. The coach can see things and remind you of things in the heat of the moment.
I’m sure there are more factors that will come to mind but these are the most obvious ones for me. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.